February 15th, 2010
(title of this post modeled on “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”)
Puzzle & Processing maven Jim Bumgardner had quite a week! In his post Mayor of the North Pole today he detailed the shenanigans he got into playing with Foursquare, The Foursquare API, and curl. I saw him speak at BarCampLA 7 in May last year, and he is inventive, smart, and witty.
I was thinking about sending false data to Foursquare after I did my first checkin today at The Mojo Cafe here in Roanoke. I was struggling to make FoursquareX work on my laptop. I don’t currently have an iPhone, Android, or other smartphone, so I had to text “
@ The Mojo Cafe” to
50500. That was it. Soon enough I got a reply to my phone saying:
“OK! We’ve got you at The Mojo Cafe.(+6 pts!) You’ve also unlocked the newbie badge!
I wondered if anything would keep me from checking in from the gas station down the block, or someplace in Africa? I was not sending any geodata, I didn’t think an SMS would carry any location or closest cell tower data to 50500. They trusted me.
More generally, I think the combination of a poorly moderated and insecure folksonomy with incentives (e.g. badges, mayorships, free meals, etc.) is a fragile one. The greater the incentives, the greater the motivation for cheating.
As it stands right now, foursquare has quite a few holes. If I were a restaurateur or coffee shop owner, I would be very wary of giving free meals or lattes to foursquare mayors, unless the employees know the mayor by sight.
I think the UI of the Foursquare apps thus far has cut down on bad data. They also let you define private spots for just you and your friends. As I understand it, the official Foursquare mobile apps attempt to locate you using GPS; in this way they limit the possibility of choosing false venues.. This limits most people’s ability to game the system. API calls and text message checkins subvert that aspect of the UI. This is an interesting problem and I wonder how it’ll get resolved.
The other aspect of the system that I think must prevent some abuse is “fair play.” I think it would be less satisfying, as far as a game goes, to win a Mayorship by cheating the system. Nicole Lazzaro’s The 4 Fun Keys talks about the emotion of “fiero“–the feeling you get when you succeed at something difficult–it’s a kind of exhilaration. I suspect cheating would take away some of that “game” aspect of “playing” Foursquare. But I suppose cheating it would be yet another kind of game. Why not check in at Brigadoon or Atlantis or R’lyeh for the fun of it? A different kind of fun, but fun. It reminds me of the “Fakester Purge,” which was when Friendster deleted accounts of “fictional characters.” Will Foursquare struggle in a similar way?
The other day I wrote about Stack Overflow’s game-like aspects. Gamasutra also recently wrote about Foursquare in that context, see page 2 for the good bits about the theory of Foursquare.
I wonder what all this means for location-based services. Could apps be forced to go through extra authentication? If you lack GPS data, how can you verify someone is where she claims she is? And if you can’t eliminate unverified data, how well can you mitigate against its effects?
Also: I welcome folks more familiar with Foursquare and other location based services to correct me on details I may have gotten wrong.